It's time to get your S.W.A.G. on, as in Students With Aspiring Goals. The program is the brain child of Devon Hilliard, and they are bringing their "Elite" football camp to the Yosemite football field July 31 - Aug. 2.
S.W.A.G. Academy is a non-profit organization, which targets under-privileged children from sixth to twelfth grades to show talent on the football field. Many are from single family homes and might never see their dream of playing college football fulfilled if not for the organization.
The academy specializes in mentoring at-risk youth football players. Many have the physical attributes, but fall short in the class room. S.W.A.G. matches each player with an academic plan, including tutoring, educates and prepares them for the recruiting process, as well as life after high school, with the goal of helping a player to college through a football scholarship. Mr. Hilliard has invited a couple area players to participate in the camp.
The program presently has 32 kids enrolled, of those, eight have been with the program from its inception. Of those eight players, four have full-ride offers from universities.
Frank Ginda of Los Banos (Pacheco High) is one of Hilliard's success stories. The 6-foot-4 football player has offers from San Jose State and the Air Force Academy; DeMario Hamons is another talented player, who received a full-ride offer from Weaver State after participating in a camp the program held in Reno.
From tragedy comes hope
Hilliard developed the program after hearing of three Merced football players who had 32 scholarship offers between them their problem, none were academically eligible. Two of the three went on to play junior college ball. Unfortunately the third, Kenny Coopers, was shot and killed after becoming involved in gang activity.
Hilliard recruited the help of a couple friends and S.W.A.G. Academy was created. There is no charge to the student/athlete and the program relies solely on donations, sponsorship and fundraising. Each participant is asked to volunteer time to community service. The program represents student/athletes from Reno, Stockton, Stanislaw, Merced, Madera, and Fresno county.
Based in Merced, this will be their third camp. Previous camps were held at Reno and Sacramento. So why Badgers country?
Hilliard wanted to remove the children from their element and give them a chance to travel to the mountains to enjoy the camping experience, while holding an elite football camp. Yosemite High School seemed the perfect fit.
Participants will camp at Beasore, with a 7-on-7 competition. Athletes will also be filmed competing in skill drills. This film will then be sent to target colleges in hopes of landing scholarships.
Guest speaker Terrance Wood will speak Friday evening after the 7-on-7 competition. Friday Aug. 1, S.W.A.G. will visit Valley Children's Hospital on a good will tour.
Hilliard has a minimal coaching staff but is encouraging Yosemite, Minarets, and Mariposa football coaches to take part in the camp. He would also like to extend an open invitation to the mountain community to come out and be a part of the event.
"This is an opportunity for the youth football player to high school player to witness an 'elite' camp and see what is expected of them if they hope to play the game in college. We are hoping this will be a community event, not just a football event," Hilliard said.
The program is run on donations and sponsorships. They will provide players with meals while they are here and are looking for any volunteers to help, as well as area businesses to donate supplies. They are in need of water throughout the weekend as well as camping gear, such as tents, to house the players. Details: Devon Hilliard, firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 676-0335.